Keats in translation

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Keats in translation

Postby Saturn » Thu Jun 03, 2004 11:01 pm

Has anybody, who speaks English as a second language, come to Keats by a translation into their mother tongue?

Having read many of the great ancient and European poets in English translation I would be fascinated to learn whether a translator can do justice to the English poets, or accomplish what some great English poets have done for the ancient bards (Dryden, Pope etc.).

I remember last year (August 03) seeing in the Keats-Shelley house in Rome a book of translations of Keats in Italian. Are there translations into many other European, or worldwide languages?

How does his work read in another tongue?

What is lost, or gained by the process?
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Postby Manako » Sat Aug 12, 2006 10:22 am

Well, I have just found this website and joined the forum. I know this post is two years old, but no body has answered yet! So I thought I could say something.English isn't my second language but I'm studying a degree on English Language and Literature (if I write something wrong or in a strange way, please let me know, I need to improve!)

I'm from Spain, and in my English Literature lessons I read Keats in English and Spanish, and I felt that there was something lost in the translation. Actually, I always read in the original language if I could understand it, because I can't find a translation good enough for me. It's even worse in poetry, the sound is lost, the effect is lessened and the meaning changes, a little, but it's never the same. And that is not only for Keats, but for any other poet. With novels there are some excellent Spanish translators, but for poetry, I have found none.

I think that almost every great ancient and European poet has been translated into Spanish.
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Postby Saturn » Sat Aug 12, 2006 1:28 pm

Welcome Manako - it's interesting that you notice the same things with translations.

I often wish I could read all the great poets in their original languages so I could truly get the feel for their work.
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Postby Malia » Sat Aug 12, 2006 5:07 pm

Aloha e Manako! :) Good to "see a new face" on the forum. I agree that much is lost in translation--especially when it comes to the *sound* of a poem as it is read and the use of double meanings. Those things don't translate well. That's one of the reasons if I had any wish to make for myself it would be to be fluent in every language in the world. Wouldn't that be cool? To be able to read everything in the original and to be able to communicate with all kinds of people. It would be the ultimate way to broaden the mind :) I suppose one of the main reasons I would love this ability is because I'm terrible at learning languages. It's a real struggle. And I admire those out there who can pick up languages easily. I had a friend once who could speak English, Bulgarian, French and German fluently. What a wonderful gift! I think I could learn to speak a language fluently only if I were tossed into that land and it was a "sink or swim" experience. i.e. I could only use the bathroom if I was forced to ask to use it in the local language. That's a way to learn a language quickly. . .out of sheer necessity!
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Postby Saturn » Sat Aug 12, 2006 9:19 pm

I wish that too Malia :D

Not just so I could read the great works form around the world but also to be able to travel and be able to speak with people everywhere on earth.

I'm waiting for some futuristic brain implant methinks in the future which will enable this :roll:

The 21st century is so disappointing in many ways...
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Postby Credo Buffa » Sat Aug 12, 2006 11:08 pm

Well, I can't speak for reading Keats in translation, but I read a little Pablo Neruda when I was studying Spanish in high school and college, and the words just aren't as powerful in English as they are in Spanish. In Spanish, the words sound almost intoxicating, which fits his style so well. But as much as I respect and admire his work, I've never really dived into it like I wish I could, simply because I'd be missing the true essence of his work unless I really took the time to read everything in Spanish.

Though maybe it'd be good for me if I did. . . my Spanish could use a little [or a lot of] work!
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Postby Manako » Tue Aug 15, 2006 8:56 pm

I study languages for many reasons, but one of them is that of being able to read anything in the original language (or hearing every film in the original version). That futuristic brain implant would be wonderful! I can't study more languages, I mix them up enough by now.

About Keats on Spanish, I have just found a book by Cortazar (do you now him?) called "Image of John Keats", and it has the best Keats translation I have read: Cortazar only tries to translate the sense, but he leaves the English version, so I can feel the sound, rhythm, etc. He repeats all over the book that his translations are not good enough, but I think they are.
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Postby Saturn » Tue Aug 15, 2006 10:13 pm

All translators feel that their translations, however good will ultimately fail to capture the essence of the original.

Here's an ironic quotation about translation for you - an English translation of Cervantes :lol:

“…it seems to me that translating from one language into another, except from those queens of languages, Greek and Latin, is like viewing Flemish tapestries from the wrong side, when, although one can make out the figures, they are covered by threads that obscure them, and one cannot appreciate the smooth finish of the right side.”
-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha - Ch. LXII.
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Postby Manako » Wed Aug 16, 2006 11:31 am

XDDDD Cervantes was a genius!
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Postby Falina » Wed Aug 30, 2006 12:00 am

So – this will be my first post in this forum… Hello everybody :D !

This is an interesting topic to start with, I think - and it’s a topic to which I hope I can really add something :) ... I live in Germany; I want to become a primary school teacher, and my main subject at university is English... I could say a lot about how I got to know Keats’ poems and how I started to love them – but I think I should write this down somewhere else :) ...

What I wanted to say here is that I as well prefer reading books and poems and watching films in their original language (okay, I admit that this only includes German, English, and maybe a little French *lol*). I’d say that I’m often very sceptical about translations (to German) – so much is often lost by translating, especially by translation poems (what, as I think, has been mentioned before)! But just recently I’ve bought a “biographical reading book” about Byron, Shelley and Keats – in German, of course :) . The poems it contained were there both in the original and the translated version. And I really had to be careful not to look at the German translation really often just because I might not understand every single word of the original version *lol*! I mean, translations might be helpful in some cases, and some of them are not too bad really – but they’re never as good as the original poem! What I find really... hhmm... sad, for example, is that the great sound of Keats’ poems simply can’t be translated into any other language... My English is far from perfect, and my pronunciation could really be better – but I just love reading the poems aloud (I don’t know if this is crazy *lol*?!). And even if a translation gets the words, the meaning and maybe even the metre and rhythm of a poem right – it’s never (it can never be) comparable to the original work...

Well, that’s all I wanted to write at the moment – I hope one can understand what I wanted to say :) !
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Postby Malia » Wed Aug 30, 2006 2:46 am

Hello Falina :) Welcome to the fourm! First off, I think your English is *very* good. My German is so bad as to be non-existant but I do know how to say "Es ist heiss" "Wo wonst du" and "Ich bin ein berliner" :lol: Oy we Americans *really* need to become more cosmopolitan! :roll:

I'm glad to hear you read poetry aloud. I do too, and I really believe it is the *true* way to read poetry--to get the full effect of the poem, I mean. When poetry was first developed ages ago, it was sung--so to read it aloud is really keeping with poetry's roots :)

Unfortunately, I'm not fluent in any other language than English so I haven't been able to read a poem in both the original and translation, but I have had a glimpse of what that must be like. I've read two different English translations of one of my other favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. The poem was Ode to an Onion and one translation absolutely towered over the other. I guess the trick to reading a poem in translation is to read several translations of the same poem and pick your favorite :)

Again, welcome to the forum and I hope to "read" you again soon!
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Postby AhDistinctly » Wed Aug 30, 2006 3:55 pm

This is such an interesting thread – thank you Saturn for posing the question, Manako for resurrecting it, and Falina for joining us in this thread for your first post!

My niece is bilingual (English and French) so I decided to ask her for her perspective on this. I was going to edit it for length, but decided that since she took her time to write, I’d post it in its entirety.

*snip*

As for literature...poetry, yes I did study French literature. I'd say a good 70% of my education from k-2nd year university was french. And, I do find that the original language of any literary piece is the best one. I think it has to do with the flow of the language, and of course, the difference of expressions and words used. Language itself is its own art...it lends itself to a poem like setting is often a character in fiction. Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame or Les Miserables was much better in French than in English. That was his language...his soul as such...and in English, maybe part of that essence is lost...I think the same could be said for Keats or Coleridge. I don't think I've read anything originally in English in French, but I'm sure the same thing would happen.

I think the fundamental understanding of the poem permeates the language barrier...in either language the basic meaning is still comprehended. However, poetry in general is open to interpretation, and if you know the language and the poet, perhaps more of what they meant is felt. So, maybe as you move away from the source, a bit of the intention is lost. And then, there are those who believe that the poet or the language does not matter...that the work is for the reader, and for the reader to take from it whatever he/she desires.

If you want to get more technical, a poem that was originally in French, and familiar to a French person...and then read in English by the same person...it just sounds different. The verse structure is reversed...there is no direct translation...different words must be chosen, and thus figuarative language also needs to change (and that can cost meaning/symbolism!) Sometimes it's shorter or longer...the rhyme and rhythm become different...etc.

So, yea...I do think some things are lost in translation. Hope that helped! I know I rambled a bit...


*snip*
...perched and sat and nothing more...
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Postby dks » Wed Aug 30, 2006 6:25 pm

Yes, great thread. Whenever I think of the language barrier affecting meaning I think of the Mexican and Latin magical realists, like Juan Rulfo and Marquez...if you read any of Pedro Paramo or A Hundred Years of Solitude in its original Spanish, there is a rich flow that exists in the native words--even the accents and the intended pronunciations add such a nuance of meaning through simple intonation, for Spanish is such a beautiful, romantic language... :shock: :wink:
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Postby Manako » Thu Aug 31, 2006 11:00 am

Robert Frost said: "Poetry is what get lost in translation"

But it is also visible that something is lost in prose, in novel. Literature is something more than the meaning of the words written, the way words are written add some of that meaning.
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Postby Saturn » Thu Aug 31, 2006 11:04 am

Manako wrote:Robert Frost said: "Poetry is what get lost in translation"

But it is also visible that something is lost in prose, in novel. Literature is something more than the meaning of the words written, the way words are written add some of that meaning.


Yes I agree with Frost there in some respects, but translation in the hands of a poet can be a work of art in itself - witness Shelley's wonderful translatiin of Plato's Symposium.

This is just one example, another is Chapman's Homer, Dryden's Aeneid etc where great poets can take a great poem and fashion something equally as poetic and compelling but whoch speaks to the age in which they live in a similar way as to the original audiences.
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